5 Things I Experienced from the 2014 ATA Conference Without Attending It

ATA 2014 program

In case you weren't aware, the American Translators Association held its 55th Annual Conference November 5-8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  It was the second largest in the history of the conference. . . and I missed it. Kind of. Instead of sitting in the front row of the opening ceremonies and breakout sessions, I had a front row seat of the conference backchannel. (backchannel n. the online place where attendees and non-attendees gather to share highlights, make connections, and continue the conversation beyond the limitations of the immediate time-space confines of the event’s venue.) My backchannel venue was Twitter. Here’s a bit of what I experienced from afar. . .

5. Inspiring Insights. I started by keeping an eye on the sessions in the conference program (You can still see it here.), but I then took to soaking up whatever insights were making their way to the #ata55 twitter feed. It was fruitful.  I learned about phonology and accents, ergonomics, technology, business practices, storytelling, cultural differences, networking skills, and other relevant topics.  I purposefully use the word “relevant” because sometimes a session title or description made me think, “I don’t see how that relates to my specific area” or “I’m not sure I’ll learn too many new things about that” and then someone would tweet a speaker quote or captivating slide and it would reset my thinking. Brain-stretching is a good thing.

4. Welcome Wittiness. The conference provided laugh-out-loud moments, even for those of us on the backchannel. With all the seriousness that language pros in any sector (or specialization as one attendee suggested on the backchannel as an alternative term to “sector”) face on a day-to-day basis, it’s a welcome relief to gather with folks who are serious about what they do, but are not at all stuffy snores themselves.

Translators and interpreters tend to have well developed funny bones. It’s not always tweetable. . .

untweetable humor

But it is palpable, even from 200 miles away. And that’s a welcome gift.

3. Social Skills. There were a lot of great sessions. One session in particular, The Minimalist Guide to Social Media for Translators presented by Tess Whitty, took place in a very large room and was very well attended. See for yourself:

Social Session.png

This made my heart smile. It suggested to me that translators and interpreters are very interested in social media and are ready to make the move to become active on social platforms. I was hoping to see a fourfold increase in the number of individuals sharing on the Twitter stream after that session. It didn’t happen, but I suppose it’s not too surprising. It takes time to figure out and get comfortable with any platform, and most people probably observe a bit before posting their own stuff. Believe me, I get it. Kudos, all the same, to the many people who opted for that session. Willingness to learn about a thing precedes the willingness to try it. I can’t wait to see who else joins the social backchannels in the coming days and months. Undoubtedly, they will have plenty of gems to share, which will enrich us all. 

2. Caring Community. Got a virus? Need someone to rideshare? Found a lost book? Lost a stack of business cards? Need help finding the link to a great resource? Want to share a youie (similar to a selfie, but focused on someone/something else) of someone or something that totally rocked it? Looking for a restaurant?

The backchannel was frequently populated with these helping hands and generous shout-outs.  Was it all roses? Of course not. There were 1800+ attendees with over 175 sessions and additional events – like Zumba and open mic poetry reading. There’s bound to be a snag or two. Still, the majority of the social sharing was positive. Even the less-positive sharing was not malicious.  Why does this matter? It’s telling of the caliber of people who organize, speak at, and attend the conference. At ATA, you’re among friends.

1. Second-best Substitute. You can learn a lot on the backchannel of an ATA conference, but it isn’t the same as attending the live event. It’s a second-best alternative for folks who, for any number of reasons, didn’t attend in person, but it’s not an equal substitute for in-person attendance. As I watched, and at times engaged in the backchannel, I knew I was only catching a glimpse of the happenings. I’m grateful for the glimpse, but it’s no substitute for the richness of actually being there. A number of times over the past several days I found myself singing (silently in my own head) the lyrics “wishing I were somehow there again” to the tune of the similarly named Phantom of the Opera song. While I learned things from sessions that I would have skipped, I also missed things from sessions (and that very interesting Brainstorm Networking event!), which I would have attended had I been there.

On behalf of the other backchannel dwellers, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the extended conference community, especially via Twitter.  Your pictures and posts were like those “wish you were here” postcards that people send to their loved ones. . . inspiring, entertaining, and just a little bit envy-inducing. . . but in a good way. Aside from generously sharing insights from the sessions, your social shares serve to encourage in-person attendance, submission of session proposals, and engagement in the organization’s future conferences. Sounds like a win-win-win (individual-organization-industry) to me.

Ready to pack your bags for #ATA56? You’ve got some time, but by all means, mark your calendar! Miami, Florida on November 4-7, 2015. Sneak peak here: http://youtu.be/6SqQnZOdOaQ

Did you tap into the ATA 55th Annual Conference via the backchannel? What were your highlights and takeaways?

Posted on November 10, 2014 and filed under Interpreter.